HC Deb 27 February 1989 vol 148 cc12-3
15. Mr. Douglas

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on recent initiatives taken by his Department in order to ensure that suitable arrangements are made between British Coal and the South of Scotland Electricity Board for the continued use by the South of Scotland Electricity Board of deep-mined Scottish coal.

Mr. Parkinson

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have made it clear to both sides in the negotiations that the Government would welcome their reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Mr. Douglas

That is a fairly interesting reply. Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that the national interest in this country, in relation to the continuation of deep-mined coal production in Scotland, will not be determined by the courts? Will he assure us that he and the Secretary of State for Scotland will use their persuasive powers with British Coal and the SSEB to ensure that contractual relationships are upheld and that deep-mined coal from Longannet and Cockenzie is used in power stations, so that we do not find ourselves in the farcical position of a Longannet project being written off the books because of a failure to reach agreement?

Mr. Parkinson

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the negotiations are to be carried out by the two concerns, not by the Government. I have, however, made sure—as I said that I would when I met the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends—that the negotiations are now being carried forward at the highest level in both companies, as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that British Coal's operating profits all come from the Nottinghamshire coal field? Why should my constituents suffer job losses when we are subsidising other areas in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Parkinson

I think that what the House wants is a sizeable, economic, successful coal industry, and the Government have been making substantial investments of taxpayers' money to give the industry every chance to be successful.

Mr. Blair

I shall welcome any intervention that the Secretary of State may make in the matter. May I impress on him that the future of the Scottish coal industry is clearly at stake in efforts to ensure that the dispute is resolved? Does he agree that it would be absurd if the industry's future were determined in the courtroom rather than the boardroom?

Mr. Parkinson

I would not regard it as satisfactory if the courts were to make a final decision. Let me make it clear on behalf of the Government that I want both sides to get together and to reach a sensible agreement.

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